Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Taste of the Nation, June 17: A Nice Party For You, Steady Food For Kids

Chances are if someone asked you to find twenty five cents a day for the next year to give to a proven great program to help feed kids, you would do it.

But what if they threw in the following: you can donate it at a party where scores of great local restaurants, vintners, and breweries will have unbelievably great food and drink for you, to thank you? Plus, they'll throw in a band at the end, to dance the night away?

That's the deal at the annual Taste of the Nation event, on Tuesday 17 June. The event is nation-wide, with hundreds of cities raising funds the same night for hungry kids.

Ithaca is one of the smallest cities to hold one of these events. Generally, only bigger cities have enough culinary talent to make them feasible. Here in Ithaca, we fease: here we come, with spatulas flailing. There is a persistent canard that Ithaca has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S. Maybe, maybe not, but we have a lot, and that means a lot of talent, and the best of the best are at this event, representing. Don't forget, of course, about the wineries, that incredible, rare resource we are blessed with, and have cultivated so well, better and better all the time.

Here's another selling point. You can come as you want and will, but a lot of people take this event as an excuse to dress up. At least a little. This is a fairly rare thing in Ithaca. So it is a night of a certain panache, not to mention sexiness, if we may be so bold. It is a lot of fun. Like a wedding or so, you know, that level of good food, good drink, good-looking, smiling people.

Of course, let's remember the raison d'etre: to fund programs for hungry children. What's not to love about that. The work of scores of volunteers, and the largesse of the business co-sponsors for the event (SYSCO Foods; and, entirely locally, the wonderful Strebel Planning Group, financial caretakers and advisors for businesses and individuals) means that 100% of your $100 ticket price goes directly to these programs.

It's a great night. Treat yourself while helping children. $100 is a high tariff, in Ithaca, but remember, it's about a quarter a day between this event and the one next year. Not a lot to ask. Especially as much as it helps. And, tell you what, special for readers of Ithaca Blog: order tickets online, using Ambassador Code DOWD (for our friend, ticket-seller Jyl Dowd), and get 20% off your ticket price. for details

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ithaca Festival This Weekend: How To Forestall Rain

With the tumult of graduations gone, it's time for Ithaca to celebrate itself, with the downtown festival, which occurs every year the first weekend past Memorial Day.

The festival gets bigger and better each year. This year there is an emphasis on poetry and film, along with all the music events.

Our favorite festival feature is the parade which kicks it off on Thursday. It's not that kind of parade, is a safe thing to say. It is very inclusive of all the community and you might say it is zany. It is certainly fun.

The parade starts Thursday at 6:30. This means the annual thunderstorm will start about 7:15. The only chance for no monsoon, we have found, is to bring an umbrella. Do that, if you are superstitious (or even just stitious); and if you are civic-minded as you should be, buy a festival button, "your ticket" to the doings, as they say.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Ten Reasons You Should Be Eating Paul Newman Brand Pretzels Right Now

(1.) Pretzels are delicious. You like pretzels, don't you? Did you ever know anyone who doesn't? No. A uniting factor of humanity is everyone likes pretzels.

(2.) Pretzels go excellent with beer, and if you are not allergic to alcohol, beer is nice as pretzels, and even nicer with them. We are writing this about 90 minutes after our late-night work shift, enjoying both (with some Havarti cheese, also nice).

(3.) The words "pretzel" and "beer" are each euphonious, and redolent of cheer. Life is hard, and both these qualities should be taken gleefully as they occur.

(4.) Paul Newman brand pretzels are the finest on earf. They taste perfect. They are crunchy as get-out. We personally think "crunchy" should be, by the USDA, an endorsed food group.

(5.) Paul Newman brand pretzels are organic.

(6.) Paul Newman brand products donate their profits to charity. Paul Newman once said his food line has made much more money than his movies, which surprised us. It must be a lot of money.

(7.) The bag itself has the color(s) of pretzels, a nice touch. And has interesting, funny reading, which reminds us of cereal boxes from childhood. Nothing wrong with good packaging. An old boss of ours in retail once said, "Nothing happens until someone sells something."

(8.) Paul Newman brand products are available at GreenStar, so your money goes both to charity, and to your own community. GreenStar circulates much more of its income locally than anyone else. It is one of the 30 top employers in Tompkins County, and supports scores (hundreds?) of local entrepreneurs.

(9.) Paul Newman pretzels are on sale at GreenStar right now. So is this Peak Organic Fresh Cut beer I am enjoying with them. If you are intolerant of alcohol, also on sale at GreenStar are Santa Cruz organic lemonades, $1.66/quart, which I love to take with pretzels in the daytime.

(10.) Also on earf, if there was ever anyone cooler than Paul Newman, can you name them? I will tell you a personal story of Paul Newman's coolness, an encounter in Sag Harbor, New York, next time. Right now, it's one more crunch, and swallow, then bed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Keep Biking

National Bike To Work Day just passed, but the day is meant to be a reminder of the benefits of biking, and encouragement to do it more.

Biking is healthy for the environment, of course, and physically, but also mentally, we think.

Biking makes you part of your natural environment, while driving makes you part of an artificial and dangerous one. Cars are tons of metal, noise, and fumes and, while convenient, kill people. No wonder we are hostile while driving. That moron is trying to kill me. What's the matter with this douchebag? I'll show him. These are the kind of thoughts provoked by driving. Meanwhile, you will never see a biking commuter cut another one off, or deny someone a lane change.

If you don't have a bike, try craigslist. If your old bike needs a tune-up, try the Cyclery on W. State Street. $75 or so will set you up for pleasant paths.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yay For Michael Hurley At The Dock

Michael Hurley has been writing and performing sweetly odd, lyrically delightful, tunefully simple songs, and quietly making a legacy of it, for about 50 years or so. Way back when with the crazy likes of the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, true originals and joyful, artistic anarchists. Michael played at the Dock - the old Castaways - in Ithaca tonight.

He is originally from the east - Bucks County, Pennsylvania - and made his mark first in NYC in the fecund folk days of the 1960's. Later he became more rural - played a lot of dates in Vermont, for one. About 15 years ago he went west, to the Portland, Oregon area, and apparently is very happy there.

He sure toiled in obscurity for years, though seemed not to mind it, but lately has had a surge of fervid popularity among people half his age. I'm not sure, but I think it had to do with a tune or two of his being featured on cable TV and in the movies. Discovered, around age 70.

The crowd at the Dock tonight was a nice mix of fans old and new. The Dock was a nice environment. The place looks great, repainted and reappointed. The staff were professional and gracious.

The onliest negative was with about 10% of the crowd, primarily interested , it seemed, in drinking and loud talking, rather than the doings.

This seems to us a poor, too-common thing in Ithaca. Or is it common everywhere?

WRFI, our community radio station, was on the scene, broadcasting it live, I believe. I hope they archived it, too. I will listen and hear, I hope, some of what I missed to bibulous loquaciousness around me at the site.

Anyway, thank you to the Dock, to Angry Mom Records (a sponsor), and to Michael Hurley, a beautiful guy. And to the other 90% of a good-sized crowd!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Other Mother

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

There was no such thing as divorce in Brooklyn 3. No kid ever lost a parent, nor got an extra one, that way.

Some kids got an extra parent through family, if a real parent got sick.

This happened with us.

Early in her marriage, our mother was hospitalized with polio. She had little kids. So her mother, Maryann Keane, stepped in.

Maryann lived a mile from us, with her husband, Patrick, in a fifth-floor walk-up, on the corner of Church and Brooklyn Avenues.

Maryann Lynch and Patrick Keane were from Ireland. Both came to America as children, fleeing poverty.

Maryann came alone, at age 16.

She'd had the misfortune to be born a girl, first child in a dirt-farming family.

"That's one for America," her father said when she was born, not male. He shipped her to New York as soon as it was legal.

There were boarding houses for such as Maryann. She went to work scrubbing floors in Manhattan.

On weekends, she went to dances for the Irish. She met a man - from Tuam, back home. He was good.

They married. Maryann was 24. Things were good enough that she stopped working.

She bore three children. She was thrilled with it and so was her husband.

Like herself, her husband was denied education as a child, thus choices later. Patrick worked digging ditches and pouring asphalt in the streets.

Their three girls slept in one bed. Maryann washed clothes by hand, in a tub with a washboard and wringer. By no means was there money.

But her husband was faithful, kind, and pious. Also, good-looking and fun. He played the accordion at parties on Saturday nights. Sunday mornings, he cooked breakfast for the family, before ushering at church.

Their girls were all spirited, smart and beautiful.

How much did she love Brooklyn? She loved the place entirely, she told me many times, in a brogue she never lost - jute-strong, song-sweet.

She'd built a life, against all odds, more solid, by a million, than the stone house she was cast from in Longford.

Presumably, to help a sick daughter raise children was no great burden, in her mind.

Maryann came to our house by bus each morning before our father left for work, and took the bus home once he returned. No need to bother him with driving, tired as he was. Some nights she stayed, if needed. On weekends she drove with her husband.

We children were small, and of course had all bonded normally with our mother, but there arose some confusion about the role of these two women in our lives.

Other kids saw their mothers a lot, and their grandmothers a little. With us, it was the opposite.

We referred to our grandmother as "Ma." Of course, our mother was Mom. But whatever a grandmother was, or was supposed to be, ours was more. Hence the splitting of the title.

I don't know if anyone tried to clarify the issue for us, or correct us. If they did, it didn't stick. We never referred to nor addressed Maryann as anything but Ma, our whole lives.

Isn't It Great?

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

One thing we were all good at, in Brooklyn 3, was talking.

It didn't cost anything and there were lots of opportunities, as there were lots of people, and not much else to do. It did not take much expertise or brain power, although more than television, its biggest rival for free entertainment, so it was considered a skill; if you were really good at it, you were a community asset.

It was part survival technique. In a place crowded with people of different experiences, it helped define both commonalities and boundaries. That was good diplomacy. If, on the other hand, you were not that diplomatic, talking loud and fast meant you didn't have to listen to other guy, to bother figuring him out. Instead you could tire him out and he would go away.

Brooklyn had a reputation for craziness, but a lot of it was this kind of an act, where if you acted slightly crazy no one expected too much of you; if you were loud or rough, people left you alone.

Still, there were many who genuinely enjoyed it as a pastime. My mother and Mrs. Dolan next door would talk for hours over the fence on nice days. I don't know what they leaned on, as it was a cyclone fence with barbs at the top. They could spend time out there, though; I remember Mr. Dolan making an issue of how many cigarette butts he would see out there sometimes.

Two of my father's brothers, Robbie and Jimmy, had mobile jobs - for the police and Con Ed, respectively. Every once in a while they would be in the neighborhood and drop in for coffee, cake and conversation on the clock.

One time Jimmy visited and we were without milk for coffee so my mother sent me to the store.

I didn't get to do errands like this very much, a trip to the supermarket by myself, with paper money and all, so I was glad to help out.

I liked the Met Food store. It was run by Jewish men who wore fedoras all the time, and Jewish women who wore scarves on their heads. They all spoke in heavy accents, but the main thing was they were very friendly all the time, and always nice to a good boy, helping his Mama, and so smart to count change, like a magna cum laude, and look at the eyelashes on him, he'll make all the girls swoon some day. I liked listening to how they spoke, and what they said. Different from us.

I don't remember what happened this particular trip this day, but I came home with the milk and recounted to my mother and Uncle Jimmy whatever excitement or incongruity I had found. I remember my mother's smile and wide-open eyes, gifts she always gave you when talking.

Jimmy was a little less enthralled, with the gift he personally generally gave, which was kind of a smirk with arched eyebrow, but I didn't take it personally, nor let it slow me down.

I told the amazing tale and took my leave, like a good kid respectful of adults. From the kitchen, after some quiet, I heard them talking.

"What is it with that kid?," Jimmy said. "You send him out to the store and he's gone five minutes. When he comes back, he's got a ten-minute story."

"Yeah," said my mother. She let it sink in. "Isn't it great?"

Wisdom From Above

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

Kenny Davis As Perry Mason was pretty convincing in making the case of neither of us as team captain, and of course he was right - all down the line, too, as Tommy Konwinski was, indeed, named captain by our coach.

So, Kenny was world-wise, at age 7 (or 8?). And I was world-weary, with this dispiriting development.

The words I couldn't quite find with Kenny, or anyone else, about the situation, I found with my mother. I had briefed her earlier. Now I was coming home with the dread conclusion.

"He's captain. Tommy Konwinski, big guy, conceited jerk. What good does that do anybody?

"He's the strongest player. But he doesn't lead anybody. He doesn't talk to half the kids. They're not good enough. He only talks to other kids who don't need any help and don't like anybody, like him."

That was the gist of it, although the un-gist was (rest assured) protracted.

At one point, my mother got up from the dining room table. "I'm still listening," she said, as she went into the kitchen.

She came back with a plate with four Oreos and a glass of milk for me. Uh-oh. That meant this was serious in her mind, for me. I had a raw vice for Oreos, which I tried to fight, so this was like opening a bottle for a bad drinker, This One Time.

I was done talking. Now was my mother's turn.

"This all reminds me of something," she said. "Some things," she decided. "That I've been thinking about since you first discussed this with me.

"Do you remember," she asked, "when they had you reading the Bible by yourself in school? Because you were too far ahead for Reading class?"

"Uh-huh," I said. That was in first grade.

"And how some of the stories disturbed you? In some it was the language. In some it was the thought."

"Mm-hmm," I said. I knew not where she was heading.

"One was the story of the lepers and the tax collectors. And how Jesus welcomed them and stayed with them, even though they were shunned by society. And you said," and she was laughing - editing herself - "well, you said you couldn't live up to that example.

"I told you not to worry, that Jesus only expects - well, I told you not to worry and we would talk about it someday when I thought it would be easier for you to understand. Today is that day.

"Jesus wants us to take care of each other, and think of others before yourself - or along with yourself, at least. He uses the example of lepers just to shock us into thinking. We can't do what he did. But we can follow his example.

"On your team, you don't try to aggrandize yourself by staying with the better players. You spend time with the boys who are not so good, and try to help them get better."

"I spend the most time with my friend Kenny Davis. He's my best friend and he's one of the best players."

"But you are friends. You don't hang around with him because he's good? He's talented but he also helps the other boys - you told me. He's modest. Like you. I bet you would like him if he was modest but not good, and you wouldn't like him if he was good but not modest."

I turned an Oreo on the plate.

"You always knew all this, in your heart, and I knew you knew. But it wasn't until you had enough experience in life, that I could talk to you about it clearly.

"My next thought, the story that really disturbed you - that was 'disgusting' - was Jesus saying if your hand leads you to trouble, cut it off, or if your eye, pluck it out. Remember?"

I did, like a story from a horror comic.

"Well," my mother said, "again, Jesus was making a point. Dramatically. And again the point was to people like Tommy Konwinski.

"It's a message with a lot of levels. But one simple level is to boys like Tommy. That if God gives you a gift - like a good hand, or eye, or you're good at sports - and you don't use your gifts generously, then it's better that you never had them. Because God expects things of us based on our blessings."

"To whom much is given, much is expected," I said.

"Exactly. So I don't want you to worry about the injustice of Tommy being named captain. That isn't as important as the work you do.

"And that's my final point. The story - this is not one that bothered you - that Jesus tells of the Pharisees who pray out on the street, or loudly in the temple, so everyone will hear, and think good of them.

"Jesus said, those men already have their reward.

"He told us to pray in private. And then we would get our reward, the important one we're praying for, not the cheap one in men's eyes."

I nodded - solemnly, perhaps, but vigorously enough, I hoped.

"You see, don't you?," my mother asked.

"I do," I said.

"Good," she said, smiling. "Now, I've talked a lot. Do you want to talk more? Or ask anything?"

I thought. "No," I said simply.

"You get it, right?"

"Right," I said, and I knew she knew I meant it. "I'm just going to go upstairs a while."

"You haven't eaten those Oreos," she said.

"It's alright?," I said. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. "I'll have them tonight."

"Okay," my mother said.

I went upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my two brothers.

The sun streamed in and our bedsheets were bright. Eddie's was orange, Paddy's was yellow, mine was NFL, with logos. I guess the different sheets helped us stay personally distinct, in a small space.

I looked out the window at our yard and the alley and the street. I turned around and knelt down at my bed. I put my forehead to the bed, on my folded arms, and said Thank You. I didn't want anything but to say that.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Developing Ithaca Times Website

The website for the Ithaca Times is already a good spot to read the weekly when you left your print copy at work. Lately it is also developing into a local news source to rival the Ithaca Journal.

Today on WRFI radio we heard the news of the mobile meth lab discovered in a parked car downtown. It interested us particularly because the car was on our street. RFI credited the Ithaca Times with the story. We went to the website to read the article. That's where we also found out that Mayer's Smoke Shop (and newsstand) is closing, after more than a century. Bill Chaisson wrote the piece.

The website also has features not in the print version. Our column, for one (click Art & Entertainment, click Opinion, click Blogs, click Ithaca Blog).

There is a certain amount of navigation to do, admittedly. But not to get to the site. Somehow the paper got registration rights for "," a pretty nice domain name. Someone at the paper was thinking ahead.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Plug For, And A Tip To, The Jewelbox

We think the Jewelbox is the best jewelry store in town. It is fancy, as a jewelry store should be, but friendly, and not intimidating, as jewelry stores sometimes are. The staff are helpful and knowledgeable, and refrain from pushiness - a great and rare combination in this business, in our experience.

The place even veers towards funkiness, or at least funniness, in a sign they have outside. It's a low-slung, marquee-type deal on their corner, at W. Buffalo St. and Taughannock Blvd. The sign itself is a great idea: there are always a lot of cars waiting for the light to change at that intersection, with nothing much else to look at.

Last year, at this time, we commended them for the slide-in words on the marquee. They were trying to boost the valuable Mother's Day trade. The sign said, simply, this:

Mom, you were right.

We are surprised, this coming Mother's Day week, not to see a reprise, we mean an exact repeat, of that sign. Jewelbox, are you disinclined to repeat yourselves? Don't be. A great idea is a great idea (and is a great idea, next year, too).

If we owned a piece of the Jewelbox, we would have that great message back in a shot, and use it every year. Meanwhile, we have one other far-flung tip. The sign currently reads, "Superb Repairs Done On Site." If it was us, we would add the letters "ad" to the end of the word "Superb." Because maybe there are others like us, attracted by the funky and funny.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

WRFI In Ithaca: Eating So Many Hot Dogs On The Radio

Is WRFI the only place on the radio you will hear Joe Tex at all, never mind followed by "I Ate So Many Hot Dogs" by Cousin Joe (birth name, Pleasant Joseph) of Louisiana? Probably. That was part of the playlist tonight on WRFI's "Felix Show," host Felix Teitelbaum (Thursdays, 9 - 11 p.m.).

WRFI is a new station: 88.1 FM in Ithaca. It is owned and run by the community.

It is a long time coming, a decade of effort finally bringing it. It is a bastion of creativity and a model of autonomy. It presents great local programming, and other important voices, such as Amy Goodman's. It broadcasts 24 hours a day.

WRFI needs, and deserves, our support. It's a great community asset, and an inspiration to other towns trying to do what we've done in creating it. So it deserves our support double.

Listen to RFI, check them out on the dial and the web, and see how you can help. And do it: by volunteering; by donating. Send a check. A big one, if you can. But even a modest one helps, and encourages. Ten bucks? Like buying them a drink or sending in a lunch or lattes? Do it! Do it today. Become part of the effort, the enterprise, and the team.

Peter Falk, For Laughter

Yesterday, I wrote a piece here on the funniness of pets. You might, especially if you write, appreciate the oddness that it started with thinking about something else: in this case, Peter Falk.

It didn't have anything to do with p-e-t, pet, and p-e-t-er, peter. That is coincidental. It's just that I came home from work and went online to fool around and relax, and thought about finding something funny, so thought about Peter Falk.

I ended up thinking about, and writing about, the source of humor for most people, animals, their pets. But I kept on thinking about Peter Falk, daffy and unstylish as that may seem.

People know him as Columbo, from TV. I never saw an episode of that show. I know him from movie roles, like "Robin And The Seven Hoods," "Pocketful Of Miracles," and "The In-Laws."

All these movies are a little dated. But, if you listen, also timeless. (Humor is really timeless, you know. People, too, if they stay funny.)

In my life, I met Pete Seeger, by appointment, and Miles Davis, by chance, when they were old; they were also beautiful, and younger-seeming, and livelier than 99% of people. They were, in person, funny; though not, necessarily, in persona. So, I think, and wonder, what would Peter Falk have been like, live? Funny as he was in his work?

Did you ever play that parlor game, of whom you would have at a dinner party, if you could? I have, multiple times, and I stay away from obvious choices like Jesus Christ. I would want Miles Davis again, a wildly funny guy; and Christopher Walken; and Peter Falk. When Peter Falk died, I thought, oh, no, I'll never get to meet him. I'll never get to ask him about that line in "The In-Laws," that my whole family shushes to hear, when he says to Alan Arkin (his co-star, another comic genius): "It was smart of you to get the split pea soup, Shel. It looks delicious." I can do a perfect imitation of those lines.

I bet he would have loved how hard that scene makes a whole family laugh. I write this on no occasion, like an anniversary of death or something. Just that I like and admire this guy. Don't you value someone who makes you laugh? Isn't that a great gift?